Don’t You Believe in Global Warming?

by | Mar 23, 2010

Venture a doubt about climate change politics or ethics, and you’ll likely be asked, “Don’t you believe in global warming?” If you express suspicion about the prominence and function served by alarm and catastrophe in arguments for political responses to climate change, it will be assumed that you don’t understand “the science”, or you simply aren’t aware of “the science”, or you are denying “the science”. As we’ve observed before, the debate is presented as one between sides attached to either the proposition “climate change is happening” or its denial, “climate change isn’t happening”.

It is a mistake to see the debate in this way for a number of reasons – most of which we’ve discussed here before. The point of this blog post is to stress what is interesting about the statement “climate change is happening”. For a statement with such huge implications, it is entirely devoid of meaning or content.

The expression, “climate change is happening” seemingly stands for a scientific theory, empirical observation, a projection and its human consequences, a moral imperative, and of course, a political response – all at once. We have pointed out before how this progression works and the problems that exist with it. Unpacking the argument reveals (in our view, at least) a presupposition that climate’s sensitivity to CO2 (and other GHGs) is equivalent to society’s sensitivity to climate. That is to say that society is as vulnerable to atmospheric CO2 as the world’s climate system’s current state is. As we have pointed out, this statement of equivalence in turn presupposes society’s impotence, or put more explicitly, it denies human agency.  If this isn’t clear, what we’re saying is that the getting from climate science to climate politics in less than one step – by saying “climate change is happening” – presupposes a great deal.

Moreover, that the expression can be unpacked in such a way reveals its emptiness. It is a mere container for prejudices and preconceptions. It is a box, with the word “SCIENCE” painted on the side to flatter the bearer. The proposition “climate change is happening”, then, says more about the person saying it than it says about the material world.

It means different things to different people. “Climate change is happening” means we must all become anarcho-eco-socialists to the radical crusty protestor. To the capitalist climate change guru – Nick Stern, perhaps – it means we need to create carbon markets. To others, such as the New Economics Foundation, it means the entire world must reduce its wealth, and share the little that exists ‘equitably’ through “contraction and convergence”. To the leaders of some western nations, Gordon Brown, for instance, it means that a legally-binding treaty must be created, complete with supra-national, supra-democratic climate political institutions. To the person living a “sustainable lifestyle”, it means moral purpose and direction and smugness. To the local government official, it means a legitimate basis for their increasingly regulatory and authoritarian function (in spite of record low voter-turnouts). Need we go on?

You see, to take issue with any of these positions would elicit the same response “climate change is happening”, as if that was all that needed to be said. It is as if, for instance, supra-national institutions and treaties would exert legitimate influence over sovereign, democratic countries, by virtue of the mere fact of climate change “happening”. No question asked about the degree or consequences of it “happening”. If you don’t like the way the local authority is behaving… tough… climate change is happening… are you denying climate change?

As we have said before, this in some way explains Climategate. Datasets that show warming such as that produced by the authors of the leaked emails are the pivot, so to speak, of the entire climate change movement. The debate has been polarised in this way by those taking their authority (see above) from the binary fact of climate change. Excluding from debate any question of degree, or scrutiny of the process that turned climate science into climate politics has left just one thing for the argument to be about. So all that needed to be done to deprive climate politics of its basis was to show that, in fact, climate scientists are human, have their own prejudices, and make mistakes.

The idea that climate science and climate scientists were not vulnerable to prejudices, interests, influence allowed people to believe that to challenge any aspect of climate politics is seemingly to “deny” climate science. Here is one such politician doing exactly that…

“Climate change is happening” means different things to different people. Ask what it means, and get as many different replies back as people you asked. It is not, by itself a statement with any scientific meaning, but one which clearly carries many political consequences. It allows people to express certain ideas about the world – anything between generalised grumble about things, to a design for the entire world’s organisation – in one neat little declaration. And interestingly, it seems to bring together the establishment and radical subversives (they like to think) in one, hollow, hollow slogan.


  1. Emil

    video is no longer available

  2. Editors

    Something appears to be up with Youtube.

  3. Rich

    A while ago I saw an advert from Greenpeace that said, “Help us stop climate change”. Just that. They wanted money. I wondered if that included the annual cycle of climate change called “the seasons” and how they proposed to do it. Well, not really but you know what I mean. When do words stop meaning anything?

  4. rhondda

    Hey, get with the program. Did you not know that science is the new religion and scientist the new priests and priestesses and politicians their disciples?
    Who needs the humanities, logic, reality, nuance, subtleties, critical thinking? If you express a doubt, well you are worse than doubting Thomas and maybe should consider seeing those priests and priestesses in psychiatry who will give you a pill that will miraculously show you the way, the truth and the light. Repent!
    It is the new social Darwin program. Don’t tell me scientists can’t learn. They stole all their ideas from new agers and post modernists. That is my displaced projection and I am sticking to it.
    I am very delighted to have found your blog. Thanks.

  5. JIm B

    There is a lack of precision in the examination of “climate change”. Is it or is it not the same as “global warming”? And if it is the same, why abandon the more specific descriptor?

    And we may have global warming as a natural outcome of the fact that we are in an interglacial period, when the globe…warms.

    So we need to pin down the warmists. When they demand that we admit we do not believe in climate change, ask them to be more specific…and agree that we do not “believe” (a religious test) in anthropogenic global warming. Stress that there is not a probative scientific finding that directly shows man-made global warming. The “scientists” at UEA only said there were some aspects they could not account for and…presto…they must be due to human activity.

    A strong streak of skepticism is called for.

  6. JMW

    “Unpacking the argument reveals (in our view, at least) a presupposition that climate’s sensitivity to CO2 (and other GHGs) is equivalent to society’s sensitivity to climate. That is to say that society is as vulnerable to atmospheric CO2 as the world’s climate system’s current state is. As we have pointed out, this statement of equivalence in turn presupposes society’s impotence, or put more explicitly – it denies human agency.”

    This sort of attitude is bad enough when used as the lens with which to view the western, developed world. It’s even worse when used as the lens through which to view the developing world.

    For the west, it will be a very uncomfortable existence, but for the third world, it will be nothing short of a cataclysm.

    Or, so we are expected to believe.

    It’s a very dim view of humanity these people have, when they think humans are somehow incapable of doing anything at all, despite all evidence to the contrary.

  7. geoffchambers

    Excellent. Pedantry is unfashionable, but your analysis of the utter hollowness of the debate about climate change is valid, and Jim B is absolutely right about the need to demand precision in the terms used when arguing with warmists.
    I’ve made the experiment recently of demanding on Guardian Environment blogs evidence for “dangerous man-made global warming now, or in the future” taking care never to simplify this formula. Of the three replies I’ve had, two (one from George Monbiot, another from an anonymous blogger) were references to articles in “Nature”. All were irrelevant, or inadequate. And you didn’t need a PhD in science to realise that the Nature articles (Stott, and Knutti and Hegerl) were little more than propaganda pieces disguised as reviews of the literature.
    This kind of direct challenge only works with true believers, who are motivated to debate with sceptics. How you persuade the lukewarm fellow travellers who simply trust what they are told by the media is another question.

  8. Francis King

    I’m going to indulge in a little bit of pedantry too. It is a scientific fact (to the same degree that gravity exists) that this planet is warming, due to heat from re-radiated sunlight being increasingly trapped by ever increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. The basic science is well understood. It is a political assertion that the warming is dangerous and/or that we must take specified or unspecified actions about it.

    What I find odd about the so-called debate on global warming was that when we sent space probes to Venus, and discovered run-away global warming we didn’t a) insist that this was the epitome of evil, nor b) did we insist it was due to sun spots.

  9. Editors

    Francis King – “I’m going to indulge in a little bit of pedantry too.”

    What is it that you are attempting to correct?

  10. Tim Groves

    Since pedantry is in fashion, Francis, how can you describe the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere as “ever increasing”? According to the paeloclimatic record they they apear to go up and down in step with temperature.

    Why do you say “the basic science is well understood?” We can’t even say with quantitative precision what twhat precisely causes the changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration measured at Mauna Loa are.

    What do you mean by saying “this planet is warming” is a scientific fact to the same degree that gravity exists? When you want to measure this planet’s temperature, in which oriface do you propose to stick your thermometer?

    And did you know that this planet’s temperature (average temperature of lower atmosphere and and upper ocean declined by 1.8 degrees centigrade between last January and last July?

  11. Brad Griffeth

    I work as meteorologist in an office with 25 others. There is not one of them that ‘believes’ in man made global warming; we all know that the sun has much more to do withfluctuations in long term temperature trends than CO2. Morevover, the science of greenhouse gas chemistry is such that Metane and water vapor account of over 99% of the greenhouse effect. We have no way to contro water vapour, which at around 95% is by the far the biggest contributor. Methane at a little over 4% we have some control over…we could stop raising so many cattle for cheap burgers,as cows both belch and flatulate methane. But since the wamer period in the 90’s, the world has cooled off. The diefintion of climate is the change in weather patterns over time, ie d(weather/d(time) and it has been in a general warming trend since we came out of the last age around 11,000 years ago. The noticeably colder periods during that time (that were on the order of a few years) occurred after major volcanic eruptions put dust into the upper atmosphere that blocked sunlight reaching the ground, and the two major cold spells, lasting decades, occurred when the sun’s average solar output dropped for a few sunspot cycles in a row and very few sunspots occured. The most famous of these was the Maunder Minimum in which average temperatures dropped a few degrees, crops failed int hee nother hemisphere due to cold summers and people died of famine. Recent years would confirm this diagnosis; probes at mars and Saturn observed a warming period thee in the 90’s, and now a cool down as the soalr cycle, which had been energetic back in the 90’s has become one of the quietest ones in recent history. If this holds up for another few years, we will have to worry about enough global cooling for crops to fail and more famine, not rising sea levels and killer heat waves. By the way, CO2 is plant food, and whenever the paleo-climate recors showed high levels of CO2, (some of which were higher than today) plants flourished and so did animals, as more plants means more food and slightly higher oxygen levels.

  12. Peter S

    “Don’t you believe in global warming?”

    This question itself needs unpacking in oder to find its possible meaning. After all, if a person – or ‘other’ – does not ‘believe in global warming’, what might he (or she) believe in, in its place?

    We can replace ‘global warming’ (or ‘climate change’) with ‘unusual event’. The question (and its asker) implies that man’s use of the environment – or ‘space’ – is causing an event different to that which is – or would be – usual.

    In social terms, of course, any adult space is defined by the mutual authority of the ongoing exchanges taking place within it. This means our differing needs can be placed into the space and negotiated with those able to meet them. This process of mutual ‘give-and-take’ depends upon adults having the capacity for surrender to the shared authority of others… in other words, being able to take ‘no’ for an answer and tolerate a need not being met or being only partially met as a compromise. For an adult, an unmet need (no matter how demanding it is to us) is not ‘the end of the world’ – even though it might feel like it is at the time.

    If the above is true, we could say that it best describes the ‘usual event(s)’ that shape the adult space we live in. We could also see it is different from an ‘infant’ space in that it relies upon the reciprocal surrender (to authority) for its success, rather than a mere submission to the needs of the infant – presented as a demand.

    Returning to the question – “Don’t you believe in the ‘unusual event’?” – we can begin to wonder what, exactly, the asker has in mind to change in the space in order to stop it happening? In other words, what is it about the adult exchanges that define our space that the asker of the question (and, according to him, the space itself) will no longer tolerate? What felt-need does the asker have that goes unmet with usual human adult exchange? And why does his unmet need feel so much like the ‘end of the world’ he won’t stop threatening us with?

    “You don’t deny the ‘unusual event’ do you?” is the more manipulative version of the question (and it’s worth pointing out here that manipulation is what infants do before they learn the negotiation that eventually marks them out as adults). This carries with it the implication that ‘denying’ the event makes the denier himself an ‘unusual’ presence in the space – and his unusualness is quickly diagnosed – without further consultation – as mental instability. Tellingly, for the climate-change advocate, to believe in adult exchange is to be psychologically ill.

    All this offers a clue to the struggle we have with this question (in its various forms). It is in fact only half a question being posed as a whole one. And it is intentionally kept that way by its askers as a means to befuddle and isolate those on the receiving end of it. If there is anyone in the space we live in who is ‘unusual’ – by demanding the replacement of our usual adult exchanges with those which are unusual by their infantility – it is the asker of this question (and his accomplices). The full question would be “Do you believe in the unusual event (here, of climate change) OR do you believe in the usual event (of adult human exchange) – because of cause and effect, you can only have one or the other?”

  13. geoffchambers

    Brad Griffeth
    The arguments you make for scepticism are not exactly new, and I’m happy to accept them until someone disproves them. What is new, is the idea of 26 professionals, all presumably with knowledge of climate science, all being sceptics. How does this happen, without this rather astounding fact getting to the outside world? Are you all bound by a vow of silence? Do you not like “talking shop”?
    This article, like many at Climate Resistance, is more concerned with belief (or disbelief) in global warming as a social and political phenomenon than with the pros and cons of the scientific argument. It sounds as if you might have an interesting tale to tell.

  14. gbaikie

    “Climate change” is simply re-branding. It’s the new and improved soap.
    It’s all about doing TV ads rather than anything which could be confused with
    human communication.
    There is a certain percentage of people who believe that Elvis is a alive- and these
    are it’s main target audience and if there is a lot of collateral damage, it’s all gravy.

    “Climate change” is spam. Just as “global warming” was spam. As is “progressive”
    as is “liberal”- and as “compassive conservative” is spam.

    You could say the problem is we are too tolerant. It would better if we were VERY intolerant to any spam- or propaganda, brainwash, or whatever you want to call it.

    And no we don’t need new laws, we simply need the kind of majority of people [or a “highly vocal” minority] that are capable of passing a law, to instead merely decide they will no longer be tolerant to this form of dehumanization.

    It is interesting that the left seems so faithful to the book “Brave New World” in which War is Peace- re-branding something as something it is not.
    I.e “progressives” are not progressive [they are instead mostly regressive- they view that capitalism, democracy, and technology as not being a better future].

    And that “global warming” was disputed as mostly due to natural variability [“natural” climate change] so the word “global warming” is changed to “climate change”.
    They could have instead chosen to use the term “human induced variability” but that lacked the vagueness they were seeking- not to mention that people who are the target audience might tend to actually like those two words “human” and “variability” together in same sentence- and “anthropomorphic variability” probably even worse combination.
    Of course there isn’t anything stopping anyone from replacing “climate change” with say “anthropomorphic variability”
    Urban Heat Islands are an example of “climate change” [anthropomorphic variability] which generally substantively increase local average temperatures- mostly night time temperatures- and tend to increase the frequency of rainfall in a localized area.

  15. Luke Warmer

    Editors – I’m sure you’ll have picked up on the Greenpeace report, “Dealing in Doubt”:

    It contains an interesting quote in relation to belief when they talk about Monckton:

    “There are many more like him who repeat the denier message for no other reason than because they believe it.”

    The glossary is an interesting insight into the way they are framing the debate – it only defines the terms – apologist, deny, free market, front group, sceptic, right wing and think tank.

    The report has a great paragraph in its conclusion on p24 which I’ve altered as per PeterS’ suggestion:

    [Unusual event] “is happening now, is caused by people and will have catastrophic consequences. Those three assertions are backed by the most rigorous scientific undertaking in history. Indeed, as this report was being written, the UK Meteorological office published a review of 100 different science papers, concluding that it was ‘even more likely’ that [unusual event] is happening and that we are causing it.”

    Then the report end:
    “All of which means, the correct response to attacks on climate science is scepticism.” which by their own definition means to question or doubt accepted opinions. Ironic?

  16. Editors

    Luke W – thanks for the link to the Greenpeace document! What a hoot. They seem to have trouble even trotting out the same old lines. My favourite is the graphic from Exxon Secrets. The secret in the case of the graph is how much “big bucks” actually amounts to. They know that if they were to state the actual figures, the graph would have zero impact. In varies from $0 to $2 million – over the course of a decade.

    If that is the best Greenpeace can do, they must be in serious trouble.

  17. Luke Warmer

    Eds – I think its all part of a massive regroup to identify who or what to attack in order to protect incomes/ sure up beliefs etc. in order to fend off cognititive dissonance.

    There is also the diagram from a study for Oxfam report via:

    Then there’s this ‘report’ from desmogblog:

    And finally, Oreskes talk about her latest book

    which identifies (as is normal for her), the three culprits (patient zero) of climate skepticism – Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz and William Nierenberg – and their links with the George C. Marshall Institute. (These three are introduced at about 26 minutes).

    All of which is why I tried (badly) to make the counter argument that if (according to Oreskes) skeptics are motivated by their belief “in defence of an ideology of laissez-faire governence, opposition to government regulation” (sic), then the opposite might also explain the warmist viewpoint. Now I take your previous comment that it is not down simple party political faultlines but…

  18. Luke Warmer

    BTW I can’t face watching any more of the Oreskes video.

    Can someone tell me if she shows the picture of Jastrow, Seitz and Nierenberg breaking into CRU?


  19. Chuckles

    I’d say that ‘Global Warming’ had to be sidelined when it became a hard sell in the 1st world Western Civ. target market for guilt and angst.
    While the numbers could be stretched to show a nice plump and increasing ‘Global’ temperature number the USA, UK and Europe just had too many miserable summers and cold winters for the narrative to stick.

    So a substitute for ‘Global Warming’ had to be found, which is not easy when you realise that these things have to have careful definitions which sustain the narrative.Probably have to be approved by a committee!
    Help was at hand however. The UNFCCC had conveniently penned a definition of ‘Climate Change’ that fitted the bill exactly.

    It is –
    ‘A change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability over comparable time periods.’

    So, when you agree that yes, of course we can see climate change, just be aware that you are also agreeing that it is human induced. By definition.
    When I use a word…

  20. geoffchambers

    The diagram from Roger pielkejr linked by Luke Warmer comes from
    It’s well worth reading the accompanying article. Leftfoot (published by Guy Shrubsole, who must surely be Ethan Greenhart’s brother-in-law) appears to be a Labour Party organisation (they list Alistair Campbell as a”domestic progressive” (!)).
    The article is a puff for the Oxfam “study” from which the diagram is pulled, and is basically a whine that the sceptics are far faster, clever, better organised / financed than we poor warmists, so why don’t you progressives post some comments on climate articles, quoting stuff from realclimate etc?
    Every paragraph contains a howler or non-sequitur or a gem of unconscious totalitatarian thinking.
    Try this: “As cognitive linguist George Lakoff has written, ‘If you don’t contol the way an issue is framed, you don’t control the debate’”. (Yes, that’s Lakoff, the expert in Cockney rhyming slang).
    They praise Monbiot for being first into the fray over CRU, apparently not noticing that he blew a hole in their argument when he described the CRU work as “not science” and called for Jones’ resignation.

    And the following comments are a dream. A Labour Party thread dominated by Steve Mosher and Jeff Id. Surreal.

  21. Peter S

    Paranoia, the Psychoanalysis Dictionary states, has “individual and institutional, social and cultural forms and determinants”. It includes, as common traits, a readiness to feel persecuted, an irrational suspicion of hidden dangers and threats and a grandiosity associated with infantile omnipotence.

    The psychologist Adam Phillips helpfully suggests that paranoia is simply an attempt to cure one’s own insignificance.

    I suppose nothing would make modern climatology more insignificant – as science – than its known contamination with political ulterior motive and money… as well as a gnawing awareness of its eventual fate within the scientific world.

    As with paranoia, the grandiosity of the ‘unusual event’ wished-for to defer the ending of the racket of climatology directly correlates with the unwanted knowledge of its insignificance as science. It is a vicious cycle.

    The precautionary principle – or the aversion to risk – is commonly found within the institution of the family. Over-protective and doting parental figures, throwing money at their offspring and lavishing them with unquestioning praise, reinforces an infant’s innate belief in his (or her) omnipotence. Lacking any usable challenge to this belief, the person passes though life seeking out (or demanding) substitute institutions and auxiliary parental figures – convinced that life beyond this existence represents an unsurvivable risk. Paranoiac fantasies of looming environmental catastrophe, illness and a lingering felt-need to control ‘others’ are all symptoms of an omnipotence that has never been de-merged from a sense of ‘self’. As a consequence, any threat to that power that the ‘outside world’ would inevitably bring is felt to be a threat to the very existence of the self. And that is terrifying.

  22. Myrddin Seren


    Outside the blogosphere back in organic-world, it has been suggested that I believe in too many conspiracies ( not conspiracies per se, just too many ) – so take the following with a huge grain of salt.

    But since Climategate got the amateur forensics rolling, the scale of the investment in the Climate Change Juggernaut just gets more and more alarming.

    Apart from the past iconic work of the esteemed Editors here on the funding to the NGOs, Richard North at Eureferendum keeps finding more and more taxpayer funding of opaque and proliferating bodies.

    Bishop Hill’s got the story of this Globe thing – a stack of politicians bundled into a private company to “To provide a forum for ideas and proposals to be floated in confidence and without the attention of an international spotlight”. And they need a company for something a password blog could do ?!

    And on and on the snouts seriously deep into the rent-seeking trough go. Everyone here could probably add a recent story. Just look at the number of hangers-on above to those hangers-on at Oxfam. It’s obscene.

    And this without even mentioning the committed True Believer foot soldiers who think they are actually saving the planet.

    There are now a worryingly large number of people with some serious money and political power at stake if the wheels should fall off their world-changing bandwagon.

    I fear the recent pushback from Greenpeace, Oxfam, the scientists with the letters in the NYT etc is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a heck of a lot at stake for a lot of very heavy hitters, and I don’t think they are going back to business-as-usual without a fight.

    Vive la Resistance.

  23. Luke Warmer

    Editors – congratulations, I see this post is recommended reading from the

    Daily Bayonet’s Global Warming Hoax Weekly Round-Up, March 25th 2010:

  24. Greg

    I lost my “faith” when the death of millions of livestock in one of Mongolia’s worst “zud” (winter disasters) in something like half a century was drowned out by the chorus of “The hellfires are nigh; we’ve got to stop this disaster before we boil to death!”



  1. Global Warming Hoax Weekly Round-Up, March 25th 2010 « The Daily Bayonet - [...] do you or don’t you believe in global warming? An excellent read and this weeks [...]
  2. Science *is* Believing » Climate Resistance - [...] on another idea about the world — our vulnerability to change. This was the subject of a post here…

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